Friday, September 15, 2006

Reading a Book vs. Watching a DVD

Economist Tyler Cowen offers what I think is a very interesting question:

I almost always read novels in bits. That is, I put the book down for a few times before finishing it.

I rarely watch movies in bits. That just seems wrong. But, assuming we are watching on DVD, why? Why do pauses ruin a movie but not a book?

He offers several hypotheses, but the one I find most convincing initially is:
2. Most books are longer than most movies, but there is otherwise no good reason for the difference in our consumption pattern.
I find this one convincing simply because if there is a book that takes less than two hours to read, I usually read it in one sitting. I tend to think that any movie over 1 hour and 45 minutes is too long, anyway, so I have no problem pausing DVDs and watching the rest later if they are over 2 hours.

Another reason I would add:
  • with books, it is easier to look back at an earlier section for a piece of information if your forget, even with the scene selection on DVDs
A further wrinkle he offers is comparing action books and action movies:
The ever-wise Natasha notes that we are mostly likely to read action novels -- such as The da Vinci Code -- straight through without pause. But action movies are the easiest to watch in bits. Ever try just a half hour of Jackie Chan? Wonderful. But breaking up a good drama is criminal.
What are your thoughts on this?

(Source: Marginal Revolution)


Anonymous said...

I think that this phenomenon is very applicable to economics, especially to the concept of marginal analysis. When I read a book, especially one divided into chapters, there is less incentive for me to continue reading on for this reason: most divisions made by the author were made for a reason. For example, a chapter might end at the conclusion of a particular scene or just before a major event takes place. As a reader, stopping the storyline at the author’s own breaks seems natural, and so there is less incentive for me to read additional pages in one sitting when I know that a particular section of the action is over anyway. For movies, it is different: action must be blended together and transitions must be seamless because patrons of movie theaters don’t really have the option of stopping the movie at a dull part and coming back at a more convenient time. Since most DVDs are movies that have been in the theaters, the setup of the movie storyline must be fluid without the breaks of “chapters.” Thus the marginal benefit of continuing watching a movie, finding out what happens in the plot (as there will be more immediate action than in a book), is greater than the costs of time watching it. The reverse is true for books as the continued effort of reading outweighs learning the conclusion of the story. In addition, I agree that time has a lot to do with it. In a book, it might take a good number of pages to sufficiently create the image for the reader of the settings and characters, while it takes only a quick instant for a movie to show the viewer what’s going on in the story. This question made me think of what Mr. Killian told us last year in an effort to get us to take notes in American Studies about your brain’s activity level being similar in the sleeping/dreaming state as to when you watch television or a movie. I found this article from the University of Pittsburg called “Research on Learning from Television” about the effects of television on the brain ('Research%20on%20Learning%20from%20Television%20by%20Barbara%20Seels'). When studying brain activity using an electroencephalograph (EEG), an instrument used to measure the electrical activity of the brain, in “subjects viewing rear projected visual images and those of subjects reading,” researchers “concluded that television viewing resulted in different brain wave patterns than did reading.” Viewing visual images produced a brain wave pattern of the alpha rhythm, “which is associated with an inactive or resting brain state”, while reading produced “the beta rhythm, which is usually indicative of cognitive activity.” Thus, it actually takes more mental effort to read a book in its entirety than to watch a whole movie.

--Sarah O'Donohue

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah. Personally, i get very tired reading books. When I sit down to read a book, I will read a couple chapters and my eyes will be tired, so I will stop reading for that moment. Also, like Sarah said the authors puts chapters in there for breaks, they are good stopping points. Another personal thing is that I am a slow reader, so it takes me longer to read books. I would rather sit and watch a movie where I can listen to the words instead of reading them. Yes, I do enjoy reading books and being able to create the images yourself, but it will take less time to have someone else create that image for you. Movies also move at a faster pace. You find out the action sooner, you get the descriptions quicker. Some books dedicate pages and pages to describing one item, and that can get boring. Whereas in a movie, you see the image and no one has to explain what it looks like in detail to you. I would rather sit and watch a movie than read an entire book because watching a movie will save me time.
-carolyn daniel

Anonymous said...

Many people have a harder time really “getting into” a book than a movie, which makes sense because books, based only upon the fact that they provide just words to tell a story, are less realistic and more descriptive and require more cognition on the part of the reader--whereas, when watching a movie, a viewer needs only to sit down and pay attention to the images and dialogue on-screen (rather than having to visualize it himself). And if a book is harder to “get into,” it is probably easier to “get out of.” Therefore, people are more likely to put a book down and take a break from reading (not only because it holds attention less but also because it requires more effort to get through) than they are to pause a DVD. However, like Sarah, I do think that natural pauses built into books play a key role as well. When a person has reached the end of a chapter in a book, it is a perfect place to stop reading for a while, because they have probably either just read a crucial, action-filled part or are unknowingly about to.
But, on the other hand, if the book has fewer chapters or none at all, people are probably more likely to read without breaks if possible. I experienced this with All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, a book we just read for AP Lit that has only 4 chapters for its 300 pages and just as little punctuation: it takes a long time to establish exactly what’s going on and who’s speaking, and once you have, you don’t want to risk losing your mental “spot”--whatever you will do during the break is just not worth the time you’ll have to invest to get your bearings again when you return to the book…in economic jargon, the opportunity cost of putting the book down is too high. However, if you stop a movie in the middle, you will know instantly what is going on once you return because it is all there on the screen--so pausing it to get more popcorn or because a UFO just landed on your roof or whatever the cause may be is more worthwhile.
Also, the action-movie-vs.-action-book syndrome is an interesting juxtaposition. My response would be that action books like The Da Vinci Code seem perhaps less intense or overwhelming than an action movie because they are “playing” in your head rather than before your eyes, so we can generally take more “book action” in one sitting than “movie action.” Also, books like The Da Vinci Code have that added element of suspense and unpredictability which keeps you hooked on them and wanting to find out what happens in the end (I started The Da Vinci Code over spring break last year on plane rides/etc and it was practically glued to my hand until I finished) whereas Jackie Chan-type movies are maybe so explosive that they’re actually predictable (I don’t really know because I haven’t watched many Jackie Chan movies…).

Anonymous said...

I disagree with nicole because i would much rather read a book and vizualize the characters/settings based on what the author has given as a discription. I do agree that when reading a book it is a lot easier to say "I'm done" than it is with a DVD. But i have a hard time dealing with the whole action film/ book idea. I beleive that watching an action movie is really hard to stop in the middle of because there is most likely always a scene that is talked about in the down time between scenes EXPLODING WITH ACTION talking about the next scene. For example, lets say a high profile CIA agent just saved a city from distruction and gets back to head quarters to get the 411 on the progress of the mission. The only problem is that he fell for the decoy and the CIA now has to find the missing bomb that could destroy the major city and kill everyone in a 10 mile radius. Now I know the DVD watcher is not going to decide to stop the movie to go to bed before seeing how they find the bomb and deactivate it... IN A MATTER OF MINUTES WITH CRAZY CARS AND COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY AGENT TACTICS/ WEAPONS. I do agree that a drama cannot be cut into bits and pieces, but seriously, the same goes for the Action movies.

-Ryan S.

Anonymous said...

I agree with carolyn because watching movies is faster rather than reading books.